Friday 15 December 2017

Down, almost out. . . then a miracle

Ciaran Byrne

"Unbelievable . . . unbelievable . . .unbelievable really," was all the Dublin number 9 Michael Darragh Macauley could say seconds after it ended in Croke Park.

And quite right too. It was unbelievable.

All around him at full time, mayhem.

Dubs crying, the men in blue shirts hugging and hollering. From Hill 16, delirium, plumes of billowing blue smoke, bodhrans and a gutteral roar of "campeones campeones".

Everywhere you looked, blue-clad men, women and children who minutes earlier had been portraits of despair, embraced and cried and lapped up the glory.

Dublin quite simply came back from the dead, turning the All-Ireland final on its head just when it looked as if the old dogs Kerry had sealed a record 37th title.

The final minutes were heart-stopping and spectacular. And when the end came just after 5pm, Dublin's fans went berserk to the strains of Thin Lizzy. The boys were indeed back in town. Amazingly, with seven minutes to go, it looked horrible for anyone in blue. Four points adrift, Dublin looked like losers again. Ragged and disorganised, they were down and almost out.

Then a miracle. A goal and a point and suddenly the 'unstoppable juggernaut' had been unleashed and Kerry were being swept from Croke Park in a storm of blue thunder. The 16-year drought was over. Manager Pat Gilroy, part of the last All-Ireland winning side against Tyrone in 1995, was suddenly a triumphant boss.

Once goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton's last-minute free sailed over the bar, all of the city and county's pent-up angst, nerves and worry of the last few days dispersed into the evening sky. After earlier downpours, even the rain clouds were gone.

"See you later in Coppers," screamed captain Bryan Cullen, the 27-year-old Phd student who lifted Sam Maguire, as he referenced a popular Dublin nightspot.

Fittingly, another copper received a bit of the acclaim; Paul 'Pillar' Caffrey, former Dublin manager and full-time garda was on duty yesterday and was warmly embraced by several Dublin players.

Some fans hailed a number of omens they said pointed to a Dublin victory. The minor team lost the final against Tipperary. Apparently, their defeats are always followed by senior Dublin wins.

They also had some 24-carat motivation. Brian O'Driscoll found time to send Bernard Brogan a message on Friday before he led Ireland to a remarkable rugby World Cup win.

"The very best of luck to you and the lads for Sunday. Total faith in you all. Go hard. Up the Dubs," said O'Driscoll in a Twitter post to Brogan.

Brogan had replied on Friday evening: "Cheers my man, same to yourself against the ozzy (sic) boys, give em hell. Duck and weave."

Forget world in union, this was Irish sport in union as O'Driscoll, an avid Dublin GAA supporter, reached out to his amateur colleague.

And how O'Driscoll would loved to have been there.

The Hill was heaving by 2.30pm, a full hour before the throw-in and the energy pulsing down its steps was enough to light up the city's darkest corners.

The supporters sang, they beat bodhrans and a few even chanted 'Boom Boom, Everyone Say Jayo' after the beloved Jason Sherlock, one of the heroes of '95.

This was an All-Ireland final day like no other, when the often indifferent capital city gave way to a giddy carnival of blue bunting, brimming pubs and last-minute tickets changing hands for €300.

The city was on edge for days as the hour of reckoning approached and for some it was almost too much. "I feel sick with fear," said Alan Murphy, from Cabra, as he and his son entered Croke Park. He was right to be afraid. His county were up against proven winners.

As Kerry eased ahead in the second half, point by remorseless point and tempers flared, it looked like the same old story for sorry Dublin. On 63 minutes, it was 1-10 to 0-9.

Then redemption. Kevin McManamon, a substitute, took a pass from Alan Brogan and lashed in a goal. A minute later Kevin Nolan knocked over the equalising point.

The final act, in the final minute of injury time, was straight from the scriptwriting gods.

Goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, bravely placing the hopes of his county on his own shoulders, slotted home a 30 metre free to win it. Elation once again.

Croke Park trembled as the Dublin fans partied but the hero didn't hang around. At the final whistle, Cluxton, said to hate the spotlight, slipped down the tunnel without collecting his medal. Job done.

Irish Independent

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